Here's a travel fact. What seems everyday and boring to locals is often charming and fun for visitors. When you're in another country, it’s interesting to see the famous sights, but the real good stuff happens when you experience for yourself how others live. Case in point: I just returned from a trip to Asia, which included a visit with two friends who live on an island in Bangkok.
I’ve been to the city several times before, but never before to Bang Krachao - the so called "Green Lung" of Bangkok — an island of sorts formed by a horseshoe bend in the Chao Phraya (Bangkok's major river). Unlike the congestion of the city, Bang Krachao is lush, green and filled with farmland and wildlife. It's on this island that Alisa, Landry (and their daughter Luciole) just built a home — a welcome retreat and far cry from the hustle and bustle of the rest of Bangkok.
We headed out there one day to see their house, and got to experience their daily commute to and from the city. While we in the U.S. might be used to catching a bus, followed by the subway, or driving 30 minutes to the office, it looks a little different in Bangkok. Here is their commute, step by step:
STEP 1: MOTOR VEHICLE
You first make your way to the waterfront, either by taxi, motorbike or tuk tuk (tricked out motorcycles that enable drivers to carry passengers, seen above). Depending on the time of day, traffic can be bad in Bangkok, so expect to do a fair amount of sitting around (and probably sweating if you aren't used to the heat, and are in anything other than a air conditioned taxi).
STEP 2: BOAT FERRY
Once you arrive at Klong Toey pier, you need a ticket for a boat ride across the river.
Once there, you can either jump on a boat that comes at regular intervals, or — if you're in a rush — you can pay a bit more to hail a long boat to take you to your destination. We snagged a long boat.
It's a short trip and only takes about 10 minutes, but it's a great — albeit quick — glimpse of daily life on a very active, working river.
STEP 3: BICYCLE
Once we disembarked, we rented bicycles to get to their house. (Alisa and Landry, along with other permanent residents, keep their bikes there during the day while they work on the mainland.) For a couple of dollars, we were outfitted with bikes and set out on the 20 minute ride to their house.
Unlike Bangkok, the island is quiet. You start off on a regular road, passing homes, small stores, a man selling roti, and the occasional wooden structure or wat. This is video of Landry, our fearless leader that day, with two-year-old daughter Luciole in the back seat.
This is where I should mention that a few of us are not "bike people” and haven't been on two spoked wheels in years. (Yep, I am one. I’ve never been good on bikes — didn’t even enjoy riding them as a kid that much.) Still, bike worries aside, it's a beautiful and peaceful ride that helps you shake off the concerns of the day.
So, the real fun began when we hit the first in a series of elevated narrow concrete sidewalks, which wound through terrain, with water on either side. The path had tons of 90 degree turns, and an average three foot drop on either side. You also occasionally passed people or bikes going in the opposite direction.
I was a wobbly cycling mess and had to stop many, many times when I thought I'd go careening off the side. (To be fair to myself, I only had problems getting started, stopping, steering, and making turns.) You can get a sense of the experience in the video above, which was taken by my intrepid friend Dave with his iPhone. Also note how relaxed Landry is during the entire ride.
At one point we passed a stretch of road with dozens of these little wooden houses laying along the tree line. If you aren't familiar, most Thai homes prominently display these houses, usually on a raised altar. They are meant to shelter protective spirits that watch over your home. When a new spirit house is needed, the old ones can't be destroyed. They are instead abandoned here, intact.
STEP 4: HOME
Finally, at the end of the path — tucked in among other homes — is Alisa, Landry & Luce's house, which is adorable and awesome — a modern version of a traditional Thai home, which they built themselves. I made it there with my body in tact (if not my dignity) and totally understand why Alisa and Landry love their commute and their decision to live where they do.
If you want to see more of the inside of Alisa & Landry's home, check out the photos here.